Archive for the ‘Use and Care of Grill Pans’ Category

Enameled cast iron is made by coating raw cast iron with a glass dust, then firing the piece at approximately 1400F.  At this temperature the glass powder melts and fuses into a smooth surface covering the cast iron.  By including different metal oxides with the glass dust it is possible to incorporate colors with the enamel finish.  The extra time and material required for enameling means a good enameled cast iron grill pan will always cost more than its seasoned equivalent.

The cooking surface in an enameled grill pan is essentially a very tough form of glass giving the pan exceptional resistance to chemical attack.  That is, they don’t rust!   Although the surface is very tough it is still glass and is subject to cracking and chipping if roughly handled or scraped with metal utensils.

An important detail about enameled grill pans is that they are not inherently non-stick.  This is a point of major frustration for many people who shell out the extra money for an enameled grill pan over a seasoned one.  Manufacturers of enameled grill pans instruct users to make sure their food is lightly oiled before adding to the pan as this will help with food release.

The trick to using an enameled grill pan is to let it get dirty.  Le Creuset instructs that over time a Patina, an oily brown or black residue, will form on the grill surface which will enable truly fat free cooking.  Really all we are saying is that like cast iron, enameled cast iron will need to season to become truly non-stick.  So, use your grill pan often with lightly oiled food and gently clean it after each use.  Clean it enough to remove bits and flecks of food but not so much that it looks brand new.  One manufacturer summarizes the process very well by instructing users to “respect the Patina”.

Other manufacturers of enameled cast iron grill pans will go ahead and coat the enamel with a non-stick polymer.  I believe GreenPans, makers of the Martha Stewart and Todd English grill pans, uses a coating of Thermolon.  Another manufacturer, Staub, has the interior enamel be black so people don’t get concerned about discoloration.

The major benefits of enameled cast iron over seasoned cast iron are appearance and care.  Some people just love the look of enameled cast iron and I can see their point.  Personally I think Les Creuest cookware is beautiful.  Additionally, if you don’t get enameled cast iron completely dry it is not going to rust on you like seasoned cast iron will.

 

Clad aluminum cookware is a product of significant manufacturing and metallurgical advances within the past fifty years.  Three wonderful properties of metallic aluminum are the ability to transfer heat at an amazing rate, its extreme light weight and its ability to be easily formed and shaped.  These properties make aluminum an ideal metal from which to construct grill pans.  The major flaw with aluminum is that when heated it easily warps and deforms, obviously something you want to avoid with cookware.

In order to take advantage of the good while minimizing the bad, a process was developed in which aluminum was sandwiched between other metals (stainless, copper, etc.).  Once the aluminum was “clad” by other materials the sheets were rolled or pressed together, formed into desired shapes and coated with non-stick surfaces.

In the comparative grill pan study undertaken by Cook’s Illustrated in 2006 they believed that clad aluminum pans had a distinct advantage over cast iron pans.  They stated that clad aluminum pans were able to transfer heat from the grill to the food faster than could cast iron.  They found this to be especially true of clad aluminum pans that had been formed by stamping as this process made hollow grooves underneath the grill ridges which allowed better contact between the grill ridges and the heat source.

The Cook’s Illustrated logic was that faster heat transfer results in better grill marks.  Better grill marks result in food releasing easier.  Easy releasing food results in less food being stuck on the grill which results in easier clean up.

Most people will find the major benefit of clad aluminum over cast iron comes from the weight of the pan.  On average, a cast iron grill pan will weigh ten times that of one made of clad aluminum.  A second benefit of clad aluminum is that you can soak it in warm soapy water overnight, something you would never do with seasoned cast iron.

 

Well seasoned cast iron has incredible non-stick properties that are similar to Teflon. Properly maintained cast iron will last for decades.  When you combine this with the fact that cast iron is incredibly cheap, you see that it is an excellent and inexpensive addition to your kitchen.

The downside of cast iron is that is does require more maintenance and care than most casual cooks are willing to provide and that it is very heavy.  If you are in the habit of throwing everything in the dishwasher or even of putting your pots away when they are still damp then these pans are not for you.  As far as weight is concerned this is even more of an issue if you have an induction or flat topped electric range.  If you drop a twelve pound pan onto your range how much damage do you think it will do?

Raw cast iron becomes seasoned through the absorption of oil into the pores of the pan.  It is the process of seasoning which makes cast iron a natural non-stick surface.  It is easy to distinguish between raw cast iron and seasoned as raw iron appears grey or brown and metallic while seasoned cast iron is jet black.

There are different levels of seasoning.  Although cast iron grill pans are marketed as seasoned they have typically only been through a single seasoning step.  As the grill pan gets more and more seasoned the non-stick properties of the grill will improve.  There are several things you can do to improve the seasoning of your grill pan.

Season the grill pan again: You can season the grill pan yourself a few times.  The procedure is pretty straightforward.  Lodge makes great grill pans and recommends coating the entire pan in vegetable oil (or rubbing with shortening) and placing the pan in the middle rack of an oven with a larger pan on the lower rack to catch dripping oil.  Heat the oven to 350F and hold for 1 ½ hours.  Turn off the oven but leave the door closed.  After the oven has completely cooled remove the grill pan, wipe it clean and repeat the process.  After two cycles of seasoning you should notice that the grill pan has significantly darkened.

Use your grill pan: Increased seasoning happens as the iron is exposed to oil at high temperature.  As long as your food is slightly oiled, the more you use your grill pan the better the seasoning should become.

Protect the seasoning: There really is no reason to work on improving the seasoning if you don’t protect it.  There are a few key things to keep in mind for protecting your grill.  The first rule is to never scrub your grill pan with abrasives, do not let anyone touch the grill with anything resembling an SOS pad.  The second rule is to avoid soap if possible. Once well seasoned the pan should clean easily with warm water and a brush.  If soap must be used it is preferable to use a mild (cheap) soap like Ivory instead of an Ultra Grease Cutting type soap.  Remember, you just want to remove food particles, not the underlying oil based protective coating.  Lastly, once the grill has been cleaned make sure it is wiped completely dry to prevent any chance of rusting.  A very light coat of oil is not a bad idea at this point.

Cleaning considerations for seasoned cast iron grill pans: Ideally you will clean your grill pan by adding hot water to the pan while the pan is still hot.  Hitting the grill with a stiff nylon brush while the water boils will dislodge most if not all of the grill crud while not damaging the seasoning.

You will note that the above procedure really isn’t possible with a reversible griddle/grill as the water would spill out all over the stovetop.  Your best bet with the reversible grills is to use a squirt bottle and do targeted spraying.  Spray a crud laden area of the grill and while the water steams quickly scrub it with a brush.  This is a little tedious but is still better than trying to deal with the crud once the grill has completely cooled.

Below is another approach to cleaning your cast iron compliments of Alton Brown; use salt! I’ll let you watch the video for details.

 

My first suggestion on the Grill Pan Tips page is to lower the heat while you are using your grill pan. To impress the importance of not overheating I have done a cut and paste from the user instructions of three grill pan manufacturers; Lodge, Les Creuest and Greenpan. While the first two companies are familiar to many people the third, Greepan is not. Greenpan is the maker of grill pans for the Martha Stewart and Todd English line of products.

• Use only low to medium heat settings for all pre-heating and cooking. The efficiency of the material is such that searing temperatures are achieved on medium settings within a few minutes. Heating the surface a little more slowly will ensure a thoroughly and evenly heated surface. (Les Creuest user instructions)

• Before cooking, apply vegetable oil to the cooking surface of your pan and pre-heat the pan slowly (always start on low heat, increasing the temperature slowly). (Lodge user instructions)

• Use only MEDIUM and LOW heat settings. DO NOT pre-heat on high heat settings. MEDIUM and LOW heats will provide the best results for the majority of cooking, including frying and searing. Allow the cookware to preheat gradually and thoroughly, as this will give the most even and efficient cooking results. Once the cookware is hot, almost all cooking can be continued on lower settings. (Greenpan user instructions)

• DO NOT pre-heat the grill on a high heat and then reduce to medium or low for cooking. Cast iron is a very efficient material and retains heat well. If over-heated it will retain that heat for a long time and this method of use may contribute to poor cooking results and the food sticking to the surface of the grill. (Les Creuest user instructions)

• At no time should the grill’s surface be smoking hot. This very high temperature is far from ideal for good grilling and may result in the outside of the food being over-browned and over-cooked before the center is cooked correctly or to your taste. If the surface is smoking, lower the heat immediately or, carefully remove the grill from the heat source to cool down before proceeding. (Les Creuest user instructions)

• Cast iron retains heat so well that if your cookware is overheated, it will contribute to poor cooking results. At these high temperatures, fats will burn extremely fast, damaging the surface of the coating permanently, leading to loss of the non-stick properties and discoloration of the cooking surface. (Greenpan user instructions)
The last comment by Greenpan refers to permanent damage to the non-stick polymer (Thermalon) that coats their grill pan and not to the enamel itself.

Seriously, turn the heat down a little.